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The Prostitute and the Paint: Conjured Agency and Its Thrills in Late Antiquity

with Dr. Ellen Muehlberger, University of Michigan


Rhetorical handbooks from late antiquity describe a common writing exercise known as speech in character. While some speeches were created for known literary characters like Achilles or Medea, others were made for types of people, like a eunuch, a painter, or a prostitute. Speeches for types of people were usually written under paradoxical parameters: the eunuch who speaks has just fallen in love; the painter who speaks cannot depict what he wants; the prostitute who speaks has become self-aware, and for each, a student must create a realistic speech reflecting the character's reactions to this strange situation. In this talk, Professor Muehlberger considers the lessons to be learned by creating speeches under these paradoxical conditions. They allow young men in rhetorical training to experience the process of conjuring agency where they have learned none exists, and that experience, indelible for its pleasure, comes to define their interactions with others as adults.

Ellen Muehlberger has a PhD in Religious Studies from Indiana University. She is Professor of Christianity in Late Antiquity at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where she teaches in Middle East Studies and History, with courtesy appointments in Classical Studies and the Frankel Center for Judaic Studies. Her first book, Angels in Late Ancient Christianity, was published by Oxford University Press in 2013. Her second, Moment of Reckoning: Imagined Death and Its Consequences in Late Ancient Christianity, appeared in 2019, and was supported by an ACLS Charles A. Ryskamp Research Fellowship (2014-2015) and a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship (2016-2017).


Thursday, January 23 at 5:00pm to 6:00pm

Patton Hall (RLP), 1.302B
305 23RD ST E, Austin, Texas 78712

Event Type

Academics, Arts & Humanities, World & Culture


All Departments

Target Audience

Students, Staff, Faculty, Alumni, General Public


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